A few months ago, I read and loved Deafening. I immediately put a hold on Tell at the library and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
Tell continues the lives of some of the characters from where we left them in Deafening. It is right after WWI, the soldiers are arriving home, most of them changed forever. Kenan has lost the use of his left arm and half of his face is covered in scars. He and his wife, Tress, attempt to find a new normal for themselves and for their marriage. Am and Maggie have been married for 25 years, have grown apart, and neither of them quite knows what to do to repair the damage.
Tell is quietly told, character-driven, and rich in detail. These elements are what keep the pages turning. It is easy to see pieces of ourselves and others in these characters from almost 100 years ago. In their stories, we see that life goes on; it moves forward, despite the setbacks and horrors of war, illness, death, and grief. Many sad things have happened to these people, but overall there is a feeling of hope. Hope is found in the details; of intimate conversation between partners, of letters from friends, of friends who allow you to be who you are, of the wounded soldier leaving his house for the first time, of visits with family and the birth of new babies.
“When we find caring, when we know there is love,… we hold on. We hold on as long as we can.”
This isn’t the book to read if you are looking for a fast-paced plot or complicated storyline. But, if you appreciate the details of everyday life and the lives of ordinary people with pasts, secrets, and sorrows who are trying to live and be happy, then I would recommend this book.
Kim says it so well in her review at Reading Matters, that I couldn’t resist quoting her:
Tell is a lovely, quietly devastating book that focuses on small moments but never loses sight of the bigger picture: that we must all take responsibility for our actions; that life, despite its many challenges, heartaches and sorrows, is what we make of it; and that failing to deal with the past can sometimes come back to haunt us in unforeseen and tragic ways.
Tell was a finalist for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It is Frances Itani’s 14th book. You can read an interview with Frances Itani where she talks about why she wrote Tell, the best advice on writing she’s ever been given, and which fictional characters she would like to be.
20 thoughts on “Tell by Frances Itani”
Thanks for the link. I have fond memories of reading this book – it’s a very gentle, quiet read if you’re looking for something introspective.
I have been trying to decide how it compares to Deafening. Did you read that one? Deafening has more going on, but Tell might be more relatable.
I’m glad I had your thoughtful review to refer people to! 🙂
No, not read Deafening but will probably get to it at some point.
I read and enjoyed both Deafening and Tell last fall. Frances Itani raises such interesting questions about what we forget, and what we remember, and what we tell each other, and what we never tell anyone, ever. I found these questions haunting: “How do we proceed? How does any of us proceed when we are struck down?” Thanks for writing about these beautiful books, Naomi.
Thanks, Sarah! That’s what I loved about them, too. All of us decide everyday what to communicate with others, and what to hold back. Even on a small scale, it can affect how we live.
I’m glad this one lived up to the promise of the first book (especially as your expectations were high). It’s good to read something introspective every now and again…I’m trying to continue reading from my TBR right now, but these novels do sound good.
One of the things that interested me about Tell is that it is written about 10 years after she wrote Deafening. It is not a really a sequel, and it focuses on different characters, but she still had to bring herself back to that same town, same time, and same characters, but, at the same time, made it its own reading experience. Both books stand completely on their own.
How did I miss your review of Deafening? I read so much about WW1 last year, and though I’ve taken a breather so far this year, I’d like to start focusing on it again. I’ve made note of your recommendations. I’m not yet familiar with this author.
These are the only two I’ve read by this author so far, and it could be they are her best, but I am curious to find out, so I may read another one sometime just to see.
If you are looking for another WWI recommendation (I also love war books!), Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is one of the best I’ve read!
I LOVE books about everyday life and I’m a sucker for this period of time. These books sound like they should be on my list.
I also love this time period! And, you’d have a couple more Canadian books under your belt! 🙂
Sounds intriguing! It sounds as if this writing might compare with Marilynne Robinson’s style.
That could be. I have only ever read Gilead, which I thought was on the boring side, but I’ve also heard that it isn’t her best. If you ever read this, maybe you could compare it for me!
Deal! I LOVED Home and Gilead and own Lila, which I am anxious to read…but I will follow-up if/when I have the opportunity to read this one! From the way you describe it sounds very similar.
Deafening isn’t one that I loved and I’ve often wondered if I should go back and reread; maybe I simply wasn’t in the right mood at the time. I’ve still got a copy at hand, and I do want to read Tell but didn’t feel compelled to pick it up as part of my Giller reading for the year, but the lingering uncertainty about the first book has me waffling. And, of course, there are so many other books on the stack to make the decision easy to postpone. Do you think I should give it another go?
I don’t think you need to have read Deafening to read Tell. They really do stand on their own.
But, as for re-reading the other, I don’t know. I’m a sucker for war stories, so it had that going for it. I also enjoyed reading about the deaf community in the early 1900s. But, I think some people had a problem with how much Itani tried to put into her book. So, I guess it depends on the issue you had with it. Was it the writing? The content? The length? I found Tell to be a simpler story, but also more relatable. Maybe you would like that better.
I like that Tell is not meant to be a sequel, but the author felt the characters/town still had a story to tell and was compelled to write another book. Would you say though that you couldn’t really appreciate her efforts if you didn’t read both books?
Definitely not. It’s totally fine on its own. It makes reference to the main characters of the other book, but it’s not important for you to know that.
I am not familiar with either! I also haven’t read much from this time period. I will look these up!
I love books from this time period – before, during, and after the war. The nice thing about Tell, though, is it’s not really about the war, but everything has been touched by it.